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The potent poison quite o'er-crows my spirit; (64)
night, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest! Why does the drum come hither? [March within.
Enter FORTINBRAs, the English Ambassadors, and
Others. Fort. Where is this sight? Hor.
What is it, you would see? If aught of woe, or wonder, cease your search. Fort. This quarry cries on havock!Cproud
death! What feast is toward in thine eternal cell, (o) That thou so many princes, at a shot, So bloodily hast struck ? 1 AMB.
The sight is dismal; And our affairs from Englandd come too late: The ears are senseless, that should give us hearing, To tell him, his commandment is fulfill’d, That Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead : Where should we have our thanks ?
• the news from England] i. e. the fate of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
o the occurrents, more or less, which have solicited] Which have importunately and irresistibly urged on-he would have said, « This sad catastrophe.”
• This quarry cries on havock] This heap of prey (see quarry, Macb. IV, 3. Rosse) proclaims that, which is the signal of desolation in war, havoc. The phrase, cries on, is much in the same way applied to murder in Othello; “ Whose noise is this, that cries on murder?".
V. 1. Iago. o our affairs from England] Matters of our embassage.
Not from his mouth,
FORT. Let us haste to hear it,
• now, 4tos. Hor. Of that I shall have always cause to speak,
Not from his mouth,
He never gave commandment for their death] Had it the means, that life affords, not from the mouth of the king; from whom they, as the creatures and spies of his villanies, would have received protection, and whose more atrocious aims, when disclosed to them, would appear to have been directed against the life of his nephew, Hamlet. This obscure intimation, this mystery thrown over the transaction, would heighten curiosity and the interest of the communications, presently expected from Horatio.
jump upon this bloody question] Close upon, and as if by a spring or bound reaching it. “ Just or jump at this dead hour," are the different readings of the folios and quartos in l. 1. Marc.
put on by cunning] Produced. • rights of memory, &c.] Borne in memory, not forgotten; and thence to have effect given them.
ne right of memory, , ) Byrne in memory, not forgotten;
And from his mouth whose voice will draw on
more: But let this same be presently perform’d, Even while men's minds are wild, lest more mis
chance, On plots, and errors, happen. FORT.
Let four captains Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage ; For he was likely, had he been put on, To have prov'd most royally: and, for his passage, The soldier's musick, and the rites of war, Speak loudly for him. Take up the bodies: Such a sight as this Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss. Go, bid the soldiers shoot. [A dead March.
[E.reunt, bearing off the dead Bodies; after
which, a Peal of Ordnance is shot off.'
• I shall have always cause—whose mooice shall draw on more] From · Hamlet's, whose dying voice or suffrage will produce or *draw in its train many more. For always, the quartos read also. The fo. of 1632 gives the line
“Of that I shall alwayes cause to speak.” o are wild] Unsettled.
On plots and errors happen] i.e. in consequence, the effect of.
put on] Put to the proof, tried. e for his passage] As to order taken for the ceremony of conveying him.
'If the dramas of Shakespeare were to be characterised, each by the particular excellence which distinguishes it from the rest, we must allow to the tragedy of Hamlet the praise of variety. The incidents are so numerous, that the argument of the play would make a long tale. The scenes are interchangeably diver. sified with merriment and solemnity: with merriment that includes judicious and instructive observations; and solemnity not etrained by poetical violence above the natural sentiments of man, New characters appear from time to time in continual succession, exhibiting various forms of life and particular modes of conversation. The pretended madness of Hamlet causes much mirth, the mournful distraction of Ophelia fills the heart with tenderness, and every personage produces the effect intended, from the apparition that in the first Act chills the blood
with horror, to the fop in the last, that exposes affectation to just contempt.
The conduct is perhaps not wholly secure against objections. The action is indeed for the most part in continual progression, but there are some scenes which neither forward nor retard it. Of the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears no adequate *cause, for he does nothing which he might not have done with the reputation of sanity. He plays the madman most, when he treats Ophelia with so much rudeness, which seems to be useless and wanton cruelty.
Hamlet is, through the whole piece, rather an instrument than an agent. After he has, by the stratagem of the play, convicted the King, he makes no attempt to punish him; and his death is at last effected by an incident which Hamlet had no part in producing.
The catastrophe is not very happily produced; the exchange of weapons is rather an expedient of necessity, than a stroke of art. A scheme might easily be formed to kill Hamlet with the dagger, and Laertes with tắe bowl.
The poet is accused of having shown little regard to poetical justice, and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose; the revenge which he demands is not obtained, but by the death of him that was required to take it; and the gratification, which would arise from the destruction of an usurper and a murderer, is abated by the untimely death of Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmless, and the pious.
Johnson. “ To conform to the ground-work of his plot, Shakespeare makes the young prince feign himself mad, I cannot but think this to be injudicious; for so far from securing himself from any violence which he feared from the usurper, it seems to have been the most likely way of getting himself confined, and consequently debarred from an opportunity of revenging his father's death, which now seemed to be his only aim; and accordingly it was the occasion of his being sent away to England; which design, had it taken effect upon his life, he never could have revenged his father's murder. To speak truth, our poet by keeping too close to the ground-work of his plot, has fallen into an absurdity; for there appears no reason at all in nature, why the young prince did not put the usurper to death as soon as possible, especially as Hamlet is represented as a youth so brave, and so careless of his own life.
“ The case indeed is this. Had Hamlet gone naturally to work, as we could suppose such a prince to do in parallel circumstances, there would have been an end of our play. The poet, therefore, was obliged to delay his hero's revenge: but then be should have contrived some good reason for it." Malone.
Of this play, a modern writer, with just conception of the interest it raises, has said ; " Such an infinite and subtle discrimination of character, such feeling, is displayed in it; it is rendered so exquisitely interesting, yet without the help of a regular plot, almost without a plan; so like is it in its simplicity to the progress of nature itself, that it appears to be an entire effusion of pure genius alone."
There are in the last editions some representations of the character of Hamlet, which, though in our judgment unfounded, yet being to such an extent injurious to it as in some measure to throw reproach upon our author, we have thought fit, with. out going more at large into his character, to give our view of the subject, as applicable to these points.
Mr. Steevens charges, 1. “ Hamlet, at the command of his father's ghost, undertakes with seeming alacrity to revenge the murder; and declares he will banish all other thoughts from his mind. He makes, however, but one effort to keep his word, and that is, when he mistakes Polonius for the King; on another occasion he defers his purpose, till he can find an opportunity of taking his uncle when he is least prepared for death, that he may ensure damnation to his soul.”
We answer, that a compliance with the injunction from his father to revenge his death, is deferred at first to enable him to satisfy himself of the truth of the ghost's representation, and whether (as he intimates an apprehension at the close of A. II.) he might not, in the broken state of his spirits, have been abused by a fiend. It must here also be taken into consideration, that if Hamlet's vengeance had been presently executed, the curtain must at once have dropped; no art or address could, after such event, have much longer sustained the drama, and carried it on to a fifth act. Having made choice of such a subject, our author was, therefore, obliged to give his character the features of irresolution, and afterwards to cover this blemish with such a veil and train of circumstances as he had address enough to introduce and throw over them. A hesitating and indecisive mind would, by these considerations, be naturally led to pause; and even if this view of the subject should not be thought fully satisfactory in a strict investigation of character by a biographer, yet as he was to fall, to reconcile the audience to his fate, and do poetical justice, some part of his character should be left imperfect, or, at least, questionable. To the remaining charge, it is answered, that the principle under which he afterwards waves a fair opportunity of effecting his purpose, was in conformity with prevailing notions, insisted upon, however revolting, by all popular authors, and the best dramatic writers of that and the succeeding age (see note at the close of III. 3.), and thence to a degree imperative upon the playwright; and this sentiment is again found and insisted upon in Othello.
Then, as is above admitted, the first opportunity that early offered was eagerly seized: and though the blow fell upon a wrong person, the act done was in some sense an answer to this charge.